“Do not give up unless you are doing something stupid” – Lari Pihlajapuro, Founder of Shipit

Persistence is a key trait of any entrepreneur and Lari is no different. After many months of dedication and numerous business plans, he has kept the focus on always improving and using setbacks as learning points. Lari shares with us the motto which has contributed to the success of his business – everything can be (and should be) made simple with the right approach.

My mom gave me a lot of freedom

I grew up in a small suburb in Helsinki called Ruskeasuo which is next to the national park. The place was way different back in the days and the surrounding areas were just forest. When I was small, very playful and adventurous, we used to do a lot of playing outside: building shelters, doing different sports, running around the neighborhood, jumping and climbing up on buildings and trees.

Mom and dad were separated when I was small. My dad is an entrepreneur who was working all the time, which upset me at that time. But I love spending time with him anyway. My mom gave me a lot of freedom to go around and took me on trips where I would have a lot of time to explore on my own. One of my favorites was camping with friends. Sometimes we would go night fishing in Seurasaari. We played a lot of games, namely card games, board games, video games, etc.

Schooling was never my thing, until the age of 23

Overall I had a very happy peaceful childhood, which makes me who I am today. I learned from camping and playing outside, so schooling was never my thing, until the age of 23. I also don’t really have a dream job, I’m good with anything that gets me forward in life. I don’t really have a role model either. By observation, I learn from everyone around me, whom I have been in touch with or even people that I read about from books or articles.

I like challenges and getting things done, that is what I like about entrepreneurship, nothing will happen if you don’t do things. I like working with and for others, but I love doing things the way I want to and towards a goal that I have set by myself. I always push my goals higher. As an entrepreneur, I believe if you work wisely, there’s plenty of chances to improve yourself and enhance your competences.

“Focus on things you know about”

I’m very lucky to receive full support from my family about my entrepreneurship. They believed in me, my idea, and that I’d be able to execute it while others didn’t. When I first started the business by myself, not everyone liked the idea, some were a bit of a skeptic about the potentiality, but it just strengthened my motivation.

I did quite a lot of research, reading books and consulting other people. My goal back then simply was to build a successful business. My jumping-off point was when I read from a book saying that you should focus on things you know about. Back then I knew mostly about logistics and transportation thanks to the five-year experience working for an international courier company. I took many different roles there, from terminal worker, driver, billing and credit controller, to dispatcher. I was also interested in the differences between shipping and pricing, for example, from Finland to Germany and vice versa.

It took me six months and 30 business plans to start

So the original idea around Shipit was to tackle that matter and make it more accessible for small & medium-sized businesses to do international trade. It took me six months and 30 business plans just to start. I scraped the whole thing, turned it into pieces and went through the whole flow of the company. There were small things changing on a weekly or daily basis, then I would try to get more information about what would need to be added or changed for the whole thing to come together. Then approximately four more months to register the company, get funding and finalize the specifications for Shipit.

During that time I also applied to a local accelerator program Business Lab Åland. These kinds of programs are very useful for starting companies, you get loads of help from supporting and partner companies and a chance to mingle with entrepreneurs who are at the same stage as you.

I decided to make a silent launch

After founding Shipit on 20.8.2015, we planned to have the MVP program launched before Christmas which then got delayed for six months. I took full benefit of that delay and brainstorming a lot of ideas about what our customers would find useful on our website. I also continued negotiations with different carriers and managed to add a couple of them before the launch.

I decided to make a silent launch of the program in early June 2016 which turned out to be a good idea. The first customer we got made a shipment that was ordered via our system and it did not go as planned. The customer had used a special delivery method for a service that we apparently missed to test. Thanks to it we quickly made the amendments needed.

Everything can be made simple with the right approach

For the following weeks, we did a lot of testing and running different versions to mess up the program. I like simple things, so that is what Shipit has been built to be, we did our testing on +60-year-old people with limited amounts of computer skills, and we simplify everything we can. I dislike complicating things and believe everything can be made simple if you know how to.

When the second shipment went through the website, it was a success! So within the first one and a half month after launching, we just kept on doing a lot of testing, analyzing of the program, and fixing the bugs which we noticed. We installed analytical programs to track our data. Before the end of July, we had five shipments go through the website.

It’s important to do marketing messaging yourself

Notice that we did no marketing whatsoever before it looked like everything was ready. We never want people to come to a website that does not work well: firstly, they might never give you a second chance and secondly you would be wasting your valuable funds in the starting stage. In August I decided that we had done enough testing and started doing some very small scale advertising. The number rocketed to 21 shipments plus a few freight shipments that month.

Before we were about to make a very big commitment from our side, we talked with another entrepreneur who had a marketing background, and he said that marketing should be done from the company itself, and not outsourced, because the standard will be much better if you do it yourself, meaning the written material especially and customer messaging. We were already planning on a very big commitment and decided to do it ourselves, saved us a fortune and we are happy with the results.

My co-founder is a much better salesperson than I am

Sami was the best boss I ever had, so I was extremely thrilled to get him on board and he joined Shipit a few months after the launch. Sami is a much better salesperson than I am, and he would also be the one in charge of our employees in the future.

He was exactly what the company needed as a first joining co-founder. He also had wide expertise about both Finnish and international logistics industry, so together we have a wide combination of knowledge to drive Shipit forward.

Customer feedback is the biggest motivation

I did a lot of research and analysis during the process, I like doing that kind of stuff, and when I started seeing results from all the planning that is what kept me inspired. It is the best feeling to get things done, and the feeling gets even stronger when you start getting results.

I also enjoy all the small things, like every time I learn something new or when we overcome challenges. Those are the moments that pretty much satisfies me and keeps me going. The best thing is when we create something that is warmly welcomed by our customers. Customer feedback is probably the biggest motivation for us.

Recovering from a downturn is when you learn the most

I’m not sure if I dislike anything about entrepreneurship. I just am not a big fan of downswings although recovering from those is when you learn the most. It gives and takes away my family time, so balancing those two things can sometimes be really hard. I have learned to cope and take the mind off things and family can also really help with that.

You have to get used to being rejected a lot of times. The most painful times are when a customer is dissatisfied with your service. It is easy to take it too harshly, that is why we put so much effort not only in non-stop product development but also customer service so that we tackle as much as possible the negative side of dissatisfied customers in our business.

Optimizing manual work is preparing for growth

The most important lessons are pretty much basic things. It is important to launch fast and then get feedback and data on things as soon as possible because it will speed up dramatically the process in whatever you are doing. The more helpful you are and the more value you bring to your customers, the better.

You also need to grow surely even if it goes slowly. A solid growth might be a much better alternative, than trying to cut corners. First thing first, you want to make sure your business processes to be effective and smooth. Optimize all the basic daily tasks to the most time-efficient possible. The quality of your product or service needs to be good enough to serve the kind of customers you are looking for. And don’t neglect to improve the way your company handles new customers and financial matters.

You will need a steady base before growing

If you have secured investment, be well prepared for growth. If there are product leaks, errors in your sales funnels, problems with invoicing and cash flow, serving your existing customers and gearing up with product development – there is a very high possibility that you will be losing a lot of capital in ineffective processes of all the things I just mentioned, investors expect growth, and you might be far from it. In order for you to be ready for growth, you will need a steady base to move on, if there are holes in too many aspects it will hurt your company in many ways.

The growth will be a huge learning process in any company, it may not be perfect, but you need to be able to fix leaks in a timely manner. And before you start gaining traction your company needs to be able to recognize the risks you might have in the future, your processes and customer onboarding should be as effective as possible (these can be optimized when growing). You want to be able to provide solid and good information about your services and what is going on in the industry you are in, this will be good for the whole process of attracting new customers in a cost-effective way.

Good SEO is not enough

Doing good SEO by writing helpful material is one of the best ways to attract customers, but it’s not enough. When those potential customers get to your website, you need to have a solid and clear onboarding process, or you need to create leads of them to later attract them to your services.

After that, your product needs to be able to meet the customers’ needs. Product development will keep existing customers happy and gain new ones. You need to be able to manage your risks to facilitate continuously and maintain healthy cash flow.

The only thing that matters is what your customers think

So try to launch fast, get as many responses as possible, learn fast, improve the processes of the company as you grow. The growth, in the beginning, does not need to be fast, but you need to learn and grow solidly. By aiming to grow too fast, you may make decisions you wouldn’t otherwise have and end up wasting your capital.

At times, some companies around you may be getting big investments and you might think that you could be doing something wrong – Reflections are good, but just believe in yourself, believe in your product and make it better as time goes, the only thing in the end that matters are what your customers think, serve them well and fix your leaks, and I am sure you will be fine.

Playing pokers helps my business

I think I have always wanted to start something from the foundation, and then see how far it can possibly get. My favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur is growing and learning. Before becoming an entrepreneur I played poker a lot. I think the mindset I learned during that time, helped me a lot in business, for instance, bankroll management – always observing the game and what is happening on the tables to learn new moves and to be more able to adapt to different situations and opponents. Analyzing and making changes according to your opponents, table position and game flow.

During the game, what kept me extremely motivated was when there were better and more experienced players and I got to play against them, the learning process speeds up tremendously when analyzing what they do, it would only have a positive effect on your own game, and the same thing goes for being an entrepreneur.

Also, another crucial thing is that the same gear does not always work. I read a lot that people set themselves in certain categories, but to be straight, you should be flexible about your thinking process, because the same gear is not always going to work and that would pretty much make you hit your head somewhere quite often and also result in making bad moves in situations that would need another approach.

My advice for fellow entrepreneurs

  • Analyze, Adapt and Learn. If you do this, then AAL is well.
  • Stay positive, thinking negative is not going to get you anywhere. It might sometimes be difficult if things go seriously awry, but the only and fastest way to continue your journey is to get up and be positive, it is just another learning curve.
  • Do not give up unless you are doing something stupid.
  • Realize and adjust in case you are doing something stupid
    The most important things entrepreneurs can do with their time is to work towards the goal they are aiming for and do it efficiently. Keep analyzing what you do and make it better, but keep the working part in the front. An entrepreneur should always be learning.
  • Do not hesitate to ask or get help during the process.
    There is no way that you can, and no way that you need to do everything by yourself, especially if you want the company to grow.

My favorite quotes

  • It is not that hard when you have the right tools, and you do not have to do everything by yourself.
  • The more people you can benefit, the better you will do.
  • Do things you know how to. These three things I learned from books and pretty much lays the ground for how I operate when setting aside my normal characteristics.
  • Trueteller CEO and founder said during Slush, that you should stop running in these kinds of events and focus on working, so that is how I operate.
  • If a customer makes a claim, and the fault is on you, just own to it and fix the error that you made. This gives the foundation to our customer services.
  • When it feels like shit might hit the fan or it does hit the fan, this is the time when I excel the most in my opinion, I stay focused and come up with the best and worst-case scenarios for each decision and then go for it, I also stay positive in these situations, because going negative would most likely end up in failing.

Lari Pihlajapuro used to be a regular at the poker tables and an employee taking several roles in an international courier company for five years before founding his own business – Shipit, a service designed to make international shipping easier for small and medium-sized enterprises. His base is in the beautiful Åland Islands which is positioned in the middle of the Baltic Sea – a natural meeting place for people, especially entrepreneurs and travelers.

Edited by

Ha Nguyen

Ha Nguyen

Editor-in-Chief at Entrepreneurs of Finland - Ha is a social entrepreneur who cares about children, education, fairness, the environment, and sustainability.
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